Merlin Review

Hull New Theatre – until 16 October 2021

Reviewed by Catherine McWilliams


Northern Ballet’s Merlin is magical, full of superb dancing, sumptuous costumes, stunning scenery and beautiful music. This is a ballet that will transfix you and transport you into another world and at times fill you with the glee of a small child.

Drew McOnie (choreography and direction) has created an amazing piece of dance, but this is a piece where all the elements fit sublimely together. Grant Olding’s music is perfect, whether crashing for a battle scene or tender in a love duet, it almost seems to drive the dance. The dance and the music fit so perfectly together I am fascinated by the process that produced such perfection – does the dance come first or the music? Then add into the mix Colin Richmond’s superb set design, deceptively simple but instantly transforming the stage from blacksmith’s forge to palace to wood and back again. Julie Anderson has created sumptuous costumes, androgynous wear for the soldiers, a simple costume for Merlin. Anna Watson’s lighting design and Chris Fisher’s illusions complete the piece with panache.

Forget any preconceptions about the story of Merlin, this is not the tale of an old wizard with a pointed hat and a variety of spells. In Northern Ballet’s production Merlin (Matthew Koon) is the child of two gods who falls to earth in an orb and is found as baby and adopted by the Blacksmith (Heather Lehan). As the story starts Merlin is 18, his country is at war, and Merlin will have to join the army. Added into the mix is Merlin’s love for Morgan (Sarah Chun) a senior general in the army, however life is not simple of course because Morgan is in love with the King’s son Uther (Mlindi Kulashe) who in turn is in love with Ygraine (Antoinette Brooks-Daw) a princess from the Kingdom of Tides, the enemy.

The music pulled you along as the action moved along seamlessly, no time to think or applaud a particular dance, the scene had changed and the action moved on.

Matthew Koon was superb as Merlin whether dancing with the exuberance of a young man or showing despair after the battle, it was always clear how he felt. The relationship with the Blacksmith was portrayed beautifully.

Antoinette Brooks-Daw’s Blacksmith was fierce but tender. Her love for Merlin shone out, together with her frustration at him! The dance with the soldiers at the palace was astonishing.

One of the stand out scenes has to be the battle scene which was danced with spears. It was absolutely breath-taking, fast and furious, at times very fierce, danced with such power and precision. I particularly appreciated that the choreography made it impossible to tell whether the dancers were male or female, they were just soldiers.

In complete contrast was the lake scene danced with a touch of humour and a nod to Esther Williams and those 1930’s movies. How is it possible to dance in such a way that you are convinced they are swimming in water? Absolutely mesmerising.

This is a piece for everyone, young and old. A proper story that will have you wanting to know what happens next, you will care about the characters. At times you will be on the edge of your seat at others gasping in awe. It doesn’t matter if you have never seen a ballet before – my friend had not, she loved it and wondered if this had spoiled her for seeing another ballet, I suspect the answer is yes!